Library collections are essential to providing the information services that patrons demand. Libraries acquire books, journals, films, prints, photographs, musical scores, maps, and manuscripts-regardless of genre or format-to meet the research needs of their present and future users. The collections, and the services that make these collections accessible, are essential to fulfilling the mission of a library. For research institutions such as university libraries, the collections often represent the accumulated capital of generations of scholars and creators (in many cases, faculty and former faculty) and constitute the raw material of future scholarship. For public libraries, the collections are the most tangible expression of the public trust that has been vested in them. The collections are the tools that libraries use to make information freely accessible to the citizens of the communities they serve.
Most libraries have traditionally focused more on the costs of acquiring and maintaining collections than on their potential as assets that are vital to institutional productivity. Without understanding the value of collections as assets to the home institution, however, it is difficult to determine how best to make those assets most productive. And without understanding risks to these assets, it is hard to protect them against future loss or damage.
This report presents a model for the management of library and archival collections that defines those collections as core assets and seeks to make them maximally productive while controlling risks to their integrity. The model is not based on the monetary value of library holdings. Instead, it focuses on business risk and proposes a framework of controls to minimize the risks that threaten the viability of those assets. This perspective views libraries as businesses and their collections as integral to achieving business objectives. With this model, managers can identify priorities for institutional investments in collections and make more compelling budget justifications for necessary resources, because the relationship between assets (collections) and the library’s mission work is made explicit to financial decision makers. Although it may be evident that libraries cannot perform mission work without having the resources to ensure that collections are accessible and secure over time, it is not always evident which investments in collection development, preservation, and security will best serve the collections at a given time. This model is designed to help managers identify priorities for investment in these areas.
The business model offered here can help managers improve stewardship of their cultural assets because it defines and controls risk through a dynamic assessment process that incorporates the changing needs of library collections, services, and patrons. It is designed to apply not only to tangible assets, such as print collections, manuscript materials, or rare sound recordings, but also to intangible digital assets that today’s libraries are acquiring and creating and for which they are equally responsible.
The fact that the language of this model comes from business, and accounting in particular, is indicative of the new environment in which all cultural institutions find themselves-one in which business increasingly sets standards for operations and accountability. Nonprofit organizations such as libraries and archives must compete for resources and make a strong case for continued or increased support for core activities. To obtain the necessary resources for mission work, library managers must be able to express and justify their needs in terms familiar to financial officers and funding organizations-in terms of business risk. The business risk model is easily adapted in library and archival environments (it is fully described in Appendix 1). The body of the report discusses how the model can be applied in a library setting.